Midway through a normal August during a midterm election year, the president and Congress go on vacation, policy debate is put on hold, and the likelihood of anything bold or controversial being passed into law is effectively nil. Political pundits normally use this legislative hiatus to look ahead to the elections in November, or else scrape the bottom of the barrel for political news. Yet this year’s August recess has been anything but normal.
Given events unfolding in Ferguson, Gaza, and Iraq, the political press has had no problem filling their articles and time slots. For the same reason, one of the biggest stories of the summer — the immigration crisis — has not received nearly the attention it deserves.
In 2014 alone, tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have flooded over the U.S.-Mexico border. An estimated 90,000 are expected by year’s end, compared to 38,000 during the previous two years combined. This wave of unaccompanied minors has raised debate over whether to deport these children or allow them to stay in the U.S. Polling indicates the public is conflicted on this question.
The White House, meanwhile, appears to see this crisis as an opportunity to end the debate about a different group of illegal immigrants.
As this emergency has unfolded, reports have surfaced that President Obama may be preparing an executive order to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. Similar to his DACA program, the president’s potential executive order would set almost 6 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
Immigration advocacy groups have been clamoring for President Obama to make such a move for years, yet he has repeatedly responded that “presidential action is not appropriate.” These same groups may have finally changed his mind, for three reasons.
THE EDITORS: “The border is secure.” —Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
First, the border crisis has arguably shifted the country rightward on immigration. While Americans view the new illegal immigrant minors with compassion, their unimpeded arrival has publicized the permeable nature of our southern border. It is reasonable to think more of them will insist on action to secure the border before any action is taken on the illegal immigrants currently in the country. This shift may have been signaled by the stunning primary loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), which some commentators have attributed to his perceived leniency on immigration. While President Obama is in the White House, a shift to the right on immigration makes a bipartisan deal even less likely than it already was.
Second, an executive order on immigration would help shore up a Democratic voting bloc, Hispanics, that has gained importance as their numbers have grown. Though many polls show overwhelming opposition to the executive order, the move could end up being very popular with Hispanics in the 2014 and 2016 elections. This could be a real boon to a Democratic presidential contender in 2016, although it risks devastating red state Democrats in the midterms.
Third, the Democratic Party and affiliated Super PACs have raised huge amounts of money off House Speaker John Boehner’s lawsuit against the president over his past executive actions, which Democrats have spun as early spadework for impeachment. The merits of this spin notwithstanding, President Obama could use executive action now to provoke Republicans into the same mistake they made with the 1998 Clinton impeachment proceedings. At the very least, it would further a narrative proven to open Democrats’ wallets. Talk of impeachment from any significant Republican could end up saving the Senate for Democrats in the upcoming elections.
Ultimately, the executive branch has a measure of discretion in choosing who to deport. That much cannot be denied. As a result, President Obama may be forced to make changes to internal enforcement policy due to the border situation. Legalizing close to 6 million people does not fall into this category, however, and would be one of the biggest executive overreaches in American history. The Constitution delegated such large-scale policy change to Congress. If the president chooses to go through with a sweeping executive order, it would be about as discreet as a nuclear blast.
—Connor Kitchings is Associate Editor of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE
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